|The basket market under the fig tree|
Aksum, in northern Ethiopia, is on most itineraries for its antiquities and the fact that it was once home to one of the world’s great civilisations. This is certainly reason enough to visit, but I also really enjoyed the vibrancy and life of the town. This is not something you usually encounter when you visit ancient sites.
Aksum is a pleasant place to walk around, made all the more interesting for us as, while we were there, we were shopping for supplies for our upcoming camping trip in the Simien Mountains. Shopping in a provincial Ethiopian town is not easy. There’s no Tesco nearby which can satisfy all your needs! We all started out with lists of what we wanted, as you do, but soon had to adapt to what was actually available. We must have gone to a dozen or more small shops to find what we needed and, not having seen them for sale elsewhere, ended up buying eggs and flour from a very obliging lady who ran the juice bar next door to the hotel. Buying fruit and vegetables on the market was interesting, too! Most stalls were nothing more than a rice sack on the floor with a few items on it. We wanted enough potatoes to do jackets for 16 people and had to go to five sellers before we had enough! We bought all the lettuce one girl had. She charged us 10 birr (about 30p) for the lot and then packed up and went home clearly happy that she’d sold out!
|Taking a camel to market|
|Taking the family’s animals to market|
|Ladies going home from market|
For me, though, the highlight of our time in Aksum came because we were lucky enough to be there on Saturday morning. This is when the highly talented basket makers of the area gather under the huge fig tree in the central square to sell their wares. The baskets are extremely colourful and the ladies who make them come to market in their best clothes, so it amounts to quite a spectacle. These baskets are highly sought after by Ethiopians from other regions, who stock up on them when they come to Aksum at festival time. They range in size from the very small to enormous ones which are used to store injeraand, we were told, are given as wedding gifts, but only to virgin brides!
These photos give some idea of the colour of the basket market.